In the past couple of years, the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) emerged in the manufacturing world and has also been embraced by consumer and municipal markets. Generally, the term IoT refers to any series of connected network of devices, machines, vehicles, or buildings – embedded with sensors and controllers to collect data and affect operations. However, these networks can also be used to track the day to day operations of infrastructure; which could include monitoring and maintenance of smart homes and cities, power grids, garbage collection, or even coffee machine maintenance. But we must ask what the IoT means to life, cities, and manufacturing going forward.
Internet of Things in Life
The desire for faster and more efficient devices has facilitated improved connectivity in all of our devices. Now our phones can control the temperature in our houses, open garage doors, and check the cameras in our houses. Our phones can update us when the weather is bad, let us know when to leave for work, or even tell us if our stove is on!
There have been a wide variety of consumer technologies that have begun, for better or worse, to develop and sell IoT technologies. From smart refrigerators to coffee makers, some have been received more positively than others. While some consumers have mocked the idea of smart toothbrushes and toasters, others are embracing the ideas. Once case is the Prodigio espresso machine, which is Bluetooth enabled, so a consumer can track the number of cups made, set a brewing time, or schedule machine maintenance. While something like this technology may not be useful for an individual consumer it would be beneficial in commercial applications, when a coffee machine may make hundreds of cups a day at a school. Using IoT can allow the owners to remotely monitor their usage and needs rather than driving to the machine to check coffee levels/filters.
Even though some companies may choose to ignore the benefits of the Internet of Things, they may end up facing similar fates to those who would not adapt to the release of personal computers in the mid 1990’s. Many of the companies that thought of the improvements of computers to be a small niche that wouldn’t stick, ended up closing their doors. But will IoT fall in history as an interesting use of tech or as something which revolutionized our world?
Internet of Things in Cities
IoT is not limited to the home, but expands to companies, manufacturing and even cities. Some cities deciding to invest in smarter lighting applications, are choosing to integrate sensors into the light posts as well. For instance, the city of Chicago is undertaking an aggressive plan to install sensors throughout the city. With these sensors maintenance crews in Chicago can tell when the lights need replaced and see which lights are drawing more power to identify areas for maintenance.
Many cities have begun implementing smart electricity and water meters to track consumer usage. These meters broadcast signals and are remotely picked up and analyzed where Water departments can track usage to provide accurate billing or to identify leaks early.
There are benefits and costs associated with a water tracking system like this. While the detection process could identify leaks early, saving hundreds of gallons of water and mitigating damage. At the same time, the system could tell when someone is taking a shower or doing the dishes, which may make citizens uncomfortable.
Internet of Things in Manufacturing
As our focus shifts from consumer technology to manufacturing, the uses of the IoT become focused on improving performance, increasing speed, and improving quality.
As an Engineer we might design a new part in our CAD software and send it our CNC machine to manufacture. While we continue to work, our climate controller determines it is getting too hot and humid for the materials in our CNC and automatically controls the climate for optimal heat dissipation. From the CNC our design goes to quality control to check dimensions, the readings at QC tell us that our tool is starting to get worn in the CNC and needs changed soon.
To connect our world together will take a lot of time and brainpower to create Smart Cities, Homes, and Cars. A crafty Engineer will understand how to utilize these IOT devices, while designing them as well. Let us know what devices you think would be improved through the Internet of Things and what ideas may be going too far.